Friday, 29 March 2013

It's still Scotland's oil

One of the biggest lies told by British Unionists is that an independent Scotland would be an economic basket case.

For years, Labour, Tory and Liberal Democrats have told us we are too wee, too poor and too stupid to govern our own country. They are still trotting-out the same lies. Have a look at the ‘Better Together’ campaign’s website: you will do well to find anything resembling a positive case for Scotland remaining within the British Union. Instead, the Unionists attempt to scare Scots from voting ‘Yes’ next September and restoring to Scotland the status of being a normal, independent nation.

Scots are a highly-educated people – so we are certainly not too stupid to govern our own country. Scotland has a bigger population than Norway, one of the most successful countries in the world – so we are not too wee to govern our own country. That just leaves the Unionist line that we are too poor. Let’s look at the facts: last year Scotland was in a relatively stronger financial position than the UK to the tune of £4.4bn, which works out around £824 per person.

Ah but, the Unionists argue, an independent Scotland would not be so well off because our oil wealth is running out.

Personally speaking, even if we had no oil reserves I would still want Scotland to be an independent country. Independence and self-determination are the normal state of affairs for virtually every nation on the face of the globe. I want my country to be a normal nation.

If we listen to Unionist politicians (and the British media), you would think Scotland had been hit by a ‘plague of oil’. Scotland is the EU’s biggest producer of oil, but we are told this would be an economic disaster for us as an independent nation.

Some undecided voters believe the oil must be running out, otherwise why would Westminster be contemplating handing over control of the resource to an independent Scotland? In reality, though, the UK Government isn’t contemplating handing over control of North Sea oil fields to Scotland, which is why they are putting everything into trying to persuade us to reject independence next year. In addition, one of the first things the devolved Scottish Parliament did in 1999 (Labour-Lib Dem administration) was to transfer 6,000 square-miles of the Scottish sector of the North Sea into English legal control. So, even after we have re-established Scotland as an independent nation, England would have legal access to anything that lies beneath the seabed of those 6,000 square-miles.

British Governments have been telling us for 40 years that Scotland’s oil is going to run out. They told us that in the 1970s, even though the then UK Government had commissioned a report, produced by a senior Westminster Civil Servant, Professor Gavin McCrone, which stated “estimates from the SNP that oil could yield £800m by 1980 are far too low”. The McCrone Report also said the economy of an independent Scotland would “tend to be in chronic surplus to a quite an embarrassing degree”. It revealed Scotland’s currency “would become the hardest in Europe”, and that “for the first time since the Act Of Union was passed, it can now be credibly argued that Scotland's economic advantage lies in its repeal.”

The McCrone Report was delivered to the UK Government in 1975. They classified it as ‘Top Secret’ and buried it in Westminster’s files. They then told us Scotland’s oil was running out and we were an economic basket case, dependent on hand-outs from England. The report only came to light in 2005 after the SNP submitted a Freedom of Information request.

They are still telling us the oil is running out, but the experts seem to believe differently. When I say experts, I’m not talking about politicians or economists. I’m talking about the oil companies which put their money where their mouth is.

Just last month, Oil and Gas UK revealed that investment in the North Sea is at its highest level for 30 years and is continuing to rise. Oil and Gas UK represents 320 companies active in the North Sea oil industry. Investment in new North Sea oil fields rose to £11.4bn in 2012, and is expected to top £13bn this year. These companies would not be making such investments if they did not expect a very profitable return on their money.

The number of new North Sea oil projects submitted to the UK Department of Energy almost doubled in 2012 – with 33 having been approved since January 2012.

The Scottish Government estimates there are still 24-billion barrels of oil to be recovered from Scottish oil fields in the North Sea, with a wholesale value of £1.5-trillian.

It is also the case that exploration carried out in the late 1970s and early 1980s revealed potentially massive oil reserves off the west coast of Scotland. So, while Scotland’s oil reserves will eventually run-out, it is not going to happen any time soon.

The UK Westminster Treasury has benefitted from 40 years of Scottish oil wealth. Only independence guarantees that from now on Scotland gets its share.

Have a look at the Norwegian Futures Fund, currently valued at over £400-billion. Norway discovered oil at the same time as Scotland, but with smaller fields. Successive Norwegian Governments have invested the nation’s wealth for the benefit of the Norwegian people. Norway is a small, independent country, unlike Scotland which, as part of the British Union, has soaring unemployment and increasing areas of multiple-deprivation. In energy-rich Scotland, over 2,000 pensioners die every winter for no other reason than they are poor and can’t afford to put on the heating in their homes.

Incidentally, there are few people better qualified than Alex Salmond to talk about Scotland’s oil. Before he was elected to the UK Parliament in 1987, he was the Chief Oil Economist with the Royal Bank of Scotland. During his time in that role he established the BBC/Royal Bank Oil Index, which is still used by the oil industry and media today.

It’s still Scotland’s oil and it’s time Scots benefitted from it. Only independence delivers to us control of our own country, including our natural resources.

Friday, 22 March 2013

Democratic deficit in the British Union

To their eternal shame the Liberal Democrats are propping-up the Tory Government in London. Without Lib Dem support, the Tory posh-boy millionaires would not be able to hammer the poor through devastating cuts to wages and benefits, the latest of which is the Bedroom Tax.

For their treachery, Scots punished the Liberal Democrats at the 2011 Scottish Parliament Election – the party was reduced to just 5 MSPs, losing all its mainland constituencies in the process. Latest Opinion Polls show a similar fate would befall the Liberal Democrats in Scotland if a UK Westminster Election was held tomorrow.

The Tory-led Government at Westminster is carrying out a rabid, right-wing agenda of which Margaret Thatcher would be proud. Under the cloak of ‘having to clear up the economic mess left by Labour’, the Tory-Lib Dem Government has begun dismantling the welfare system that, until now, has provided a safety net for the poorest and most vulnerable members of society in their time of need. Public sector wage rises and uplifts to state benefits have been pegged at 1-percent, which against an inflation rate of around 3-percent represents a real-terms cut, making even poorer some of the people who were already struggling to exist on poverty-level incomes.

At the same time as they will introduce the Bedroom Tax, which punishes tenants in social housing who have a room more in their home than the government says they need, the Tories and Liberal democrats will also cut the rate of tax paid by the richest people in the country – someone on a salary of £1million will instantly be £107,000 a year better off.

The Tories are looking after the rich and punishing the poor, which is what Tories always do. The collapse of global capitalism is simply a convenient excuse. Make no mistake, crisis of capitalism or not, the Tories would be implementing the same policies. The only difference between the administration of David Cameron and the one led in the 1980s by Margaret Thatcher is that the current right-wing government is only able to carry out its policies thanks to the support of Nick Clegg and the Liberal Democrats.

Of course, Tories and Lib Dems argue they are in power as a result of the democratic process. The people voted in 2010 and produced a result where no one party had an overall majority. That was the will of the people, and the resulting Tory-Lib Dem coalition was simply a requirement needed to form a government for the country in light of the inconclusive election result.

The thing is, though, in a democracy, the authority to govern stems from the consent of the people. With the result of the 2010 Westminster Election, it can be argued the Tories emerged as the largest single party, and so have a legitimate right to govern aided by another party. But that argument only holds in relation to Scotland if you consider it to be just a region of Great Britain, rather than a nation in its own right.

At the 2010 UK Westminster Election, in terms of percentage share of all the votes cast, the Liberal Democrats finished in third place in Scotland, and the Tories were fourth. Labour polled in first place with the SNP second. In reality, therefore, Scotland is currently governed from London by two parties that the people soundly rejected through the democratic process. In Scotland, the present UK Tory-Lib Dem administration has no authority to govern because the consent of the people was certainly not given.

However, as things stand at the moment within the current constitutional arrangements of the UK, Scotland is just a region of Great Britain. This means the votes of Scots will always be heavily outnumbered by those cast in England and that we, in Scotland, will always have imposed on us the government for which England votes, irrespective of our wishes as democratically expressed at the ballot box.

We do have the devolved Scottish Parliament and an SNP Government but, again, the current constitutional arrangements within the UK mean that the Edinburgh legislature is, in law, subservient to the parliament in London. The Scottish Parliament has no powers over ‘reserved’ matters, which means the Tory-Lib Dem Government in London still legislates for Scotland in areas such as Defence, Social Security, Foreign Policy and the Military, the Economy, Immigration and Nationality, the Monetary System, Energy, Medical Ethics, and even the Constitution itself. All of this is the case despite the parties that form the UK Government having finished third and fourth in the democratically expressed opinion of the Scottish people.

Actually, just for good measure, the UK legislation that established the devolved Scottish Parliament – the Scotland Act (1998) – contains a clause, the effect of which gives Westminster the power to abolish the Scottish Parliament if it ever saw fit.

Recently, the Labour Party in Scotland has begun to raise its voice in condemnation of welfare cuts imposed by the Tories and Liberal Democrats. Some Labour activists have even taken to Scottish streets, asking people to sign petitions against the Bedroom Tax.

This is the same ‘Scottish’ Labour Party that is standing shoulder-to-shoulder with the Tories and Liberal Democrats in opposition to independence for Scotland. This is the same ‘Scottish’ Labour Party that tells Scots it would be a ‘disaster’ if we governed our own country. This is the same ‘Scottish’ Labour Party that would rather see Scotland continue to be governed by Thatcherite Tories in London than have a Labour Government in an independent Scotland. This is the same ‘Scottish’ Labour Party whose policy for Scotland to remain in the United Kingdom means the Tories and Liberal Democrats would continue to be in a position to impose welfare cuts in Scotland.

Some ‘Scottish’ Labour activists argue they oppose the Tories on social policies and only agree with them on the constitution, as if the two were separate issues. The constitution is what gives the Tories (and their Lib Dem lapdogs) the power to impose their devastating social policies on Scotland.

Re-taking our political independence not only means we can govern our country in the interests of the Scottish people, it means the Tories will never again be in a position to impose their will on Scotland.

In an independent Scotland, whichever party is elected to government will have the authority to legislate through the consent of the people. That’s democracy.

Wednesday, 20 March 2013

Backdating law change to rob the poor

It’s official – we no longer live in a democracy.

Last month, three judges at the Appeal Court in London found that the Tory-Lib Dem UK Government had acted illegally when it withheld Jobseekers Allowance from two people who refused to work for nothing.

The two individuals who appealed against the government decision had been placed on the Workfare scheme.  Despite one having a science degree and the other having worked for years as a Heavy Goods Vehicle driver, both were told they had to ‘experience work’ by stacking shelves in a Poundland store for no wages.

In January, a report from the House of Commons Public Accounts Committee revealed that Workfare – officially known as the Work Programme - had found employment for just 3.6% of claimants referred to it.  The Tory-Lib Dem Government’s own officials in the Department for Work and Pensions estimate that 9.2% of Jobseekers will find work without any assistance.  Therefore, the figures clearly show that the unemployed have a better chance of finding employment if they are NOT on the Work Programme. 

The only beneficiaries of Workfare are private companies provided with free labour and those paid billions-of-pounds of public money to deliver a programme that is an abysmal failure.

Unemployed people who refused to work for nothing on the Work Programme  – full-time hours for no wages – had their Jobseekers Allowance stopped, meaning they had no income.  When two individuals took their case to appeal, the three presiding judges found in their favour.  The decision meant the UK Government had acted illegally in removing benefit from claimants who declined to work for no pay.  In total, the Department for Work and Pensions faced having to repay £130m it had illegally docked from Jobseekers.

Rather than face up to a problem of its own making, the UK Government introduced retroactive legislation, which effectively undermined the judgement of the Court of Appeal.  In other words, the government brought forward legislation that backdated a change in the law so it would not have to repay the benefits it had illegally docked.  In explanatory notes accompanying the Bill that went before the House of Commons on Tuesday night (March 19), the UK Government stated that backdating a law change was necessary to “protect the national economy”.

MPs from the two governing parties supported the Bill, while the SNP, Welsh Nationalists Plaid Cymru and the one Green Party MP voted against it.  Labour MPs were instructed to abstain, which guaranteed the passing of the backdated law-change depriving some of the poorest people in the country of benefits that were illegally removed from them.

To their credit, seven Scottish Labour MPs rebelled and voted against the Bill, including Katy Clark who represents North Ayrshire & Arran.

The people of Scotland did not vote for the Tories or Liberal Democrats: in fact, at the 2010 UK General Election the Lib Dems finished in third place in Scotland, the Tories were fourth, yet because we remain part of the British Union, we have this unwanted government imposed on us.

As if that wasn’t bad or undemocratic enough, the UK Government – with the assistance of the Labour Party - is now changing laws retroactively in order to steal money from some of the poorest people in the country.

Only by retaking our Independence will we be able to stop this British Unionist coalition.

Friday, 15 March 2013

The real disaster for Scotland

I don’t often get the chance to watch First Minister’s Questions these days, but when I do, I am always struck by the paucity of talent in opposition parties.

The SNP’s landslide victory in 2011 saw the Labour Party, in particular, lose some of the MSPs it considered to be ‘big-hitters’. However, under the dual-track electoral system used for Holyrood Elections, Labour’s polling in the regional vote saw it receive more ‘List’ members than had previously been the case. This did not do the party any favours.

Labour lost very experienced politicians, such as former Ministers Tom McCabe and Andy Kerr, and saw them replaced by second-rate (that is being generous) party timeservers like North Ayrshire councillor Margaret MacDougall – a woman whose only previous entrance into the limelight had been when revealed she submitted mileage claims in relation to attending Armistice Parades held to remember those who gave their lives fighting for the country.

Labour’s backbench is populated by people who were not supposed to get elected. So confident was the party that it would always secure the election of its favoured candidates by winning constituency seats, it allowed deadwood, no-hopers to fill regional lists in the ‘knowledge’ they would never be elected. Put frankly, they were just there to make up the numbers.

Such arrogance on the part of Labour did not allow them to even consider a situation where they would lose constituencies to the SNP or anyone else. A position that was to take for granted the people of Scotland, and which has resulted in the party now being represented in the Scottish Parliament by people who, in the main, have been elevated way beyond their abilities.

Every Thursday at mid-day, viewers of BBC2 are allowed a live 30-minute glimpse into the Chamber at Holyrood for First Minister’s Questions. The issue of this being the only live coverage we see of our national parliament is another matter.

Each week Johann Lamont rises to question Alex Salmond. As Labour leader she is, presumably, the best the party has got: let’s not forget, she is the person who would be Scotland’s First Minister if Labour formed the government in Edinburgh. But almost without fail Ms Lamont is exposed as being completely out of her depth in attempting to challenge the SNP leader. A fast-asleep Salmond could easily see-off the best Labour has to offer.

As for the other opposition parties, well, they actually make Johann Lamont look quite good.

Tory leader Ruth Davidson always looks as if she is ready to either vault her desk and run at the First Minister to show-off her judo moves or simply burst into tears. The Liberal Democrats were reduced to just five MSPs at the 2011 Scottish Parliament Election (five too many given their propping-up of the Tory Government in London), and are now lead by a grinning eejit who would be out of his depth in the chamber of North Ayrshire Council. His name escapes me at the moment.

Last Thursday (March 14), Ms Lamont and Ms Davidson continued their British Unionist partnership by both questioning the First Minister on what their London-based parties consider to be a principle reason why Scotland cannot be a successful independent nation – the ‘volatility’ of oil prices. Of course, the British Unionist position ignores the fact that much of UK Government spending is dependent on revenues accruing from Scotland’s oil.

Despite independent expert analysts predicting a new oil boom in the Scottish sector of the North Sea, with the average oil price calculated at $113 a barrel (much higher than the UK Government’s forecast), the Lamont-Davidson British Unionist line continued to portray Scotland’s abundant natural resources as if we had been hit by a ‘plague of oil’. So negative is the British Unionist campaign that even being home to the EU’s largest oil reserves is a ‘disaster’ for Scotland.

Needlessly to say, Alex Salmond effortlessly dealt with the twin-track attack from the Labour-Tory partners, noting that for the past 40 years Scotland’s oil wealth had poured into the coffers of the Westminster Exchequer in London, and that only independence will give us the power to make sure the Scottish people receive their share from now on.

In joining with the Tories, so-called ‘Scottish’ Labour is standing shoulder-to-shoulder with the party that is imposing on Scots the Bedroom Tax and so many other cuts to benefits and tax credits, moves that hit the poorest hardest. The absurd position of ‘Scottish’ Labour is that they would rather see Scotland governed by Thatcherite Tories in London than have a Labour Government in an independent Scotland.

In the Scottish Parliament Labour joins with the Tories and Liberal Democrats to talk-down the ability of Scots to run our own country. Even if ‘Scottish’ Labour had not lost its ‘big hitters’ at the 2011 Election, the party would still be siding with the Tories against the right of the Scottish people to govern their own country, because that is the line dictated to them by their leadership in London.

Scots have the abilities and resources to make Scotland a very successful nation, with our fellow citizens enjoying a far-higher standard of living than is currently the case. What really would be a ‘disaster’ for Scotland is if we were taken-in by the Labour-Tory-Lib Dem partnership and believed that savage austerity imposed by a government in London was as good as it gets for us.